Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I love words.

I suppose every writer does and must.

I like poetry and non-fiction these days more than novels and short stories.

I remember in 12th grade, however, how much I enjoyed reading short story masterpieces.

I haven't found the paperback that my English teacher placed into my lucky hands, but sometimes I'll come across a few stories that I really liked.

Nowadays I look for poems that slipped by me or ones that I have overlooked.

I like to re-read the great poems; but I won't mention which ones or which poets right now.

My focus is on words.

I like to discover where words "come from".

The where and the how---

the when is important, too, but I enjoy the first two the most.

Over twenty years ago I bought Ernest Weekley's etymology dictionary called

An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English.

I suppose one impetus for purchasing this two-volume work, if not the main impetus, was because D.H. Lawrence had run off with Professor Weekley's wife Frieda.

I wanted something to connect me to D.H. Lawrence.

Simple words will do when writing.

It's how they're used, and not how big and fancy.

But I also like those big words.

Strange words.

I used two strange words last week to describe two of my students.

They were not complimentary words, but neither were the students.

Immediately after using these words which had been elicited by how my students were behaving, I thought to myself,

"Gee. I wonder where these words came from?"

I also thought,

"I haven't used these words in many years."



As I type...

I will find and share with you the etymologies for these two words.


The words!

They are pipsqueak and numskull (and later I will have a couple of bonus words).

pipsqueak: 1910, from the trivial noise a young or weak creature makes.

What a big disappointment.

I wanted to know more, and have more history on this one.

I'll look elsewhere and get back to you on this word.

numskull: 1717, from num (see numb) + skull. Numskulled (adj.) is attested from 1706.

This wasn't much better, but it says

Look up skull at Dictionary.com and gives this:

c.1225, probably from O.N. skalli "bald head, skull," a general Scand. word (cf. Swed. skulle, Norw. skult), probably related to O.E. scealu "husk" (see shell). But early prominence in southwestern texts suggests rather origin from a Du. or Low Ger. cognate (e.g. Du. school "turf, piece of ice," but the sense of "head bone framework" is wanting). Derivation from O.Fr. escuelle seems unlikely on grounds of sound and sense. O.E. words for skull include heafod-bolla.

At least one part of the word, skull, was specified.

I really like the O.E. words for skull: heafod-bolla.

"Can't you get it through your heafod-bolla!"

Now for the bonus words.

They are caucus and coccyx.

The Presidential primaries are in full swing, and so the word caucus is in the air and on the airwaves.

Strange-sounding word, isn't it?


When I hear it being said I think of the word coccyx.

I know that they aren't pronounced the same.

But now I’ll dig into their etymologies:

caucus: 1763, Amer.Eng., perhaps from caucauasu "counselor" in the Algonquian dialect of Virginia, or the Caucus Club of Boston, a 1760s social & political club whose name possibly derived from Mod.Gr. kaukos "drinking cup." Another candidate is caulker's (meeting). The verb is from 1850.

O.K. That's kind of interesting.

coccyx: 1615, from Gk. kokkyx "cuckoo" (from kokku, like the bird's Eng. name echoic of its cry), so called by ancient Gk. physician Galen because the bone in humans supposedly resembles a cuckoo's beak.

VoilĂ !

Very Interesting.

I hope that all of you have enjoyed this little exercise.

I just love words.

Don't you?


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